TRAINING Camp arrived today! While most fans have been waiting to get a glimpse of the players, I’ve been dying to get a look at the systems we’ll be running. Of course we won’t get a real glimpse of the Defensive system until probably the third preseason game. Still, I’ll be looking for big changes in our coverage of opposing receivers.
I’m actually very excited about that.
Aside from that, I don’t really know what we can reasonably expect from this year’s camp. All that talk of open competition throughout the roster was bullshit from the jump; and I told you that it was, in plain and unbroken.
There are 22 starting positions between the Offense and the Defense, and the only spots truly up for grabs are LT, WR2, and maybe, maybe, MLB. Everything else has either been decided by, or confirmed by, economics.
The battle for LT between multi-year project Jordan Mailata, and 2019 first round pick Andre Dillard, should be a lot of fun to watch, as they bring two different approaches to the contest. Mailata raw size and power, and Dillard The two of them seem quietly determined to put the other guy on the bench. If iron truly sharpens iron, then the result should produce an excellent blindside protector for QB Jalen Hurts.
It’s already been said that WR Jalen Reagor would be operating mostly out of the Slot this season. Greg Ward is reliable, but lacks the speed to threaten deep; and while John Hightowerhas shown impressive wheels and an ability to uncover, his catch rate (34.5%) makes him impossible to take seriously as candidate to start.
That makes last year’s leading receiver Travis Fulgham, the odds-on favorite to be starter opposite rookie WR Devonta Smith. It needs to be said, with the amount of speed the Eagles have stockpiled at WR, especially when the back-ups are in, Jalen Hurts on a scramble drill could be lethal if he can improve his accuracy.
The MLB position is a toss-up. In our 4-3 base, that job belongs to T.J. Edwards right now. When we go to the Nickle or Dime, Edwards comes off the field. Then again so would most MLB’s. Second year man Shaun Bradley has more footspeed, but Edwards has better eyes and instincts, and he plays under more control. We’ll have to see how it plays out in Camp. Provided the job is truly even up for grabs.
Despite all the turnover this offseason, there really isn’t much to see, if you step back and view the big picture. The Eagles coaching staff doesn’t know enough about themselves as a group, to draw any definite lines in the sand about what must be done or how. This year is a lab for everybody. Both players and coaches.
Word to the wise:
This is not the most talented team in the NFL, but it does have a collection of young, explosive players on Offense. People are questioning whether those players will live up to their high ceilings. However, that question is an admission of multiple high ceilings.
The Defense has a few older players on it, but overall they are in their primes, and have been there, seen that. This is not a group that will get rattled easily. Even in games when we fall behind early.
While it would be silly to expect this team to win the NFC East this season, it would be equally as foolish to write them off. There is still a proven core of veterans who know how to motivate each other, hold themselves and each other accountable, and more importantly overcome adversity.
This team is a broad sword, not a scalpel. It’s roster is designed to either overwhelm with physical traits; or present match-up puzzles that defy classic solutions. This is not a finesse team. It’s built to be a brawler. That said, if the brawler can actually take a punch or two…the entire NFC, not just the East, could have a problem on its hands.
SEASON Reviews are usually done at the end of the season. A few are also done at the halfway mark. Starting in 2017, Eaglemaniacal.com began treating the season like a game, and breaking it into four quarters. Since football is a hard sport, we’ll take a hard look at where our team currently stands, in relation to where it started. Then we can discuss where it needs to go next.
STATUS: 3 – 4 – 1 / 1st place in the NFC East/ 23.3 points scored per game vs. 25.6 points allowed.
(L) Pittsburgh 7 – 0
(L) Baltimore 5 – 2
(W ) New York giants 1 – 6
(W ) Dallas 2 – 5
Injuries to key positions continued to rob this team of any ability to build any stability. Especially along the Offensive Line. The team has shown remarkable resiliency, battling back from double digit deficits in three straight games (PIT, BAL, NYG), respectively threatening a, almost completing a, and then pulling off a, comeback victory. This Eagles team is making the point that they will never surrender, and never retreat.
QB: (C)Carson Wentzended the first quarter with a mark of 4TD – 7INT. This quarter he’s flipped it to 8TD – 5INT. Not sexy, but clear progress. Beyond that, he’s infected his team with an “I didn’t hear no bell!” mentality. This is in spite of all the protection and weapons that he’s been missing. Jalen Hurts has played 17 snaps this quarter, but all as a gadget guy. So far there’s been no way to get him more than that without starting a media frenzy.
RB: (C)Miles Sandersrecorded back to back weeks with a 74 yard run. While 1 was a TD, the other ended up as a fumble (recovered by a teammate). In a 2 week span, he put up 198 rushing yards on 20 carries (9.9ypc). When he plays, he’s a threat. Boston Scott filled in for Sanders, catching the game winning TD in Week 7, and picking up 70 rushing yards Week 8. Both were wins. While the Eagles want him to be the nextDarren Sproles, Scott isn’t nearly as elusive, and lacks a second gear to the edge. He picks up what the line provides, but is merely functional. Corey Clement chipped in 31 yards on 7 rushes (4.4). He’s also seen a sharp up-tick in snaps these last two weeks.
TE: (D)Zach Ertz played the first two games of this quarter, before being put on IR. In those two games, he caught just 5 o f 16 balls for 39 yards. During this same quarter, Richard Rodgers has come alive. Posting 10 catches and 107 yards on just 12 targets, Rodgers even led the team in receptions (8) and yards (85) in the Eagles victory over the giants. The blocking has suffered somewhat. Dallas Goedert just got back from being on IR. Jason Croom paid us too short a visit from the Practice Squad and caught a touchdown in the process.
WR: (C)Travis Fulgham is the story of this quarter, with 27 catches on 41 targets for 378 yards (14.0ypc) and 3TD. Greg Ward has 2 scores on 14 grabs for 97 yards (7.9ypc). He either has to get better at running past the sticks, or picking up yards after the catch. So far John Hightower has 4 catches on 15 targets this quarter. While he has the speed to be a deep threat, his ball tracking skills have to improve if he’s going to have an NFL career. Fulgham is stepping up. It will be interesting to see if another player at this position will or can, step up to help spread coverages.
C: (A)Jason Kelce Has been the glue holding the interior of the line together. The result of his mentoring has the run game looking better. (When we use it.)
G: (D)Nate Herbig isn’t going to win a Mr. Universe contest, but he’s been consistent, and he teams well on combo blocks. He’s looked good enough recently, to bring up the question of Isaac Seumalo’s spot on the 2021 depth chart. Especially if Herbig keeps improving. The other spot has been manned over these last 4 games by a combination of Matt Pryor, Iosua Opeta, and Jamon Brown (back on PS). The result is, the Eagles look better running the ball than throwing it. (Except on 3rd and more than 2, or when trying to close out games.)
T: (C)Lane Johnson has tried to battle through an ankle injury, but it’s got him in and out of games, and looking like a shell of himself when he’s on the field. Jason Peters played in just one game this quarter, but it was our Week 8 win over Dallas. His issues facing speed, at times have him looking average. Not that average is a liability, but moving Peters inside would help the entire Offensive Line. Now that Jordan Mailatahas shown he can man the Left spot, we can afford to move Peters the instant that Johnson is good to go. Jack Driscoll is a rookie who largely looks like one. That’s not a knock. That’s flat reality.
DE: (B)Brandon Grahamis on pace to finish with double digit sacks for the first time in his career. More than that, he’s ramped up his play from last quarter to this. He’s always been solid vs the run, but recently he’s become an absolute liability to offensive game-plans. Derek Barnett and Josh Sweathave both cooled considerably during this quarter. Seems that Barnett plays better off the bench, and Sweat plays better when he starts. Genard Averysaw his effectiveness decrease as his snaps declined, and now is on IR. Vinny Curry played a big part in both of our last two wins, getting his hands on two killer fumble recoveries (one not recovered by him)
DT: (C)Fletcher Cox hasn’t put up many sacks numbers, but he’s still anchoring vs the run, despite seeing constant double teams. Malik Jacksonhad a strong first two games before being hurt Week 7, and trying to play through Week 8. More was expected from free agent additionJavon Hargrave. The idea was that he’d disrupt blocking scheme and occupy blockers. Put nicely, he could be doing more. Hassan Ridgeway was seeing decreasing downs before he was placed on IR.
OLB: (D) In a Week 7 win over the giants, Nate Gerrymade his first splash play of the year. Later in that game he would be injured. Aaand subsequently placed on IR. Duke Riley is simply incapable of imposing his will on an offense. The Eagles defense has been decidedly more feisty since Alex Singleton was named a starter in Week 6. His play has gotten increasingly more decisive, and he’s been willing to gamble on making the big play. Rookie Davion Taylor has played just 11 snaps this quarter. The knock on him is that he was still raw coming out of college. Not giving him more playing time, will ensure that he stays that way. If not for Singleton, this grade would be an F.
MLB: (B)T.J. Edwards played in just one game, but his sack/fumble sealed a prime-time victory over the Cowboys. For the other three games the Eagles have been going with a 2 LB alignment, so this position didn’t have a real representative for three games. Rookie Shaun Bradleyhas seen some defensive snaps in three of the four games this quarter, but hasn’t shown much playmaking ability. He has a willingness to hit, but his eyes have to get better in terms of diagnosing, so that he gets to the point of attack before it can be well established by the offense.
S: (D) Over this quarter, Jalen Mills has started wherever he’s been needed in the Secondary. As he is more of a tweener, his best position seems to be NB. Unfortunately, he didn’t see much action there and his play reflects it. Rodney McLeod has all at once, been asked to do too much and not enough. Too much Single-high Coverage, isn’t allowing our corners to gamble on creating turnovers. We have to be more proactive about creating turnovers and less reliant on just hoping they happen. Will Parks came off of IR and stepped into 2 starts in three games. He’s been solid at making tackles, but so far unremarkable. Marcus Epps so far just looks like a guy. For the second year in a row.
CB: (C)Darius Slayhas allowed a 76% completion rate over the last 4 games, as opposed to 66% over the first 4. In both quarters he’s averaged just 45 yards surrendered per game. So effectively, opponents lose half the field when he’s out there. That counts a great deal! Sadly, he doesn’t get a lot of surrounding support. Nickell Robey-Coleman makes the Defense stronger when he watches from the sideline. He’s a liability vs the run, and doesn’t make plays on the ball. Like Mills, Cre’von LeBlanc seems to be a better NB than edge player. His hustle and eyes are undeniable, but too often he seems a tick slow. Avonte Maddox has been a mixed bag since coming back from injury. In one game he’s targeted once, in another he’s targeted 10 times. In neither does he get a paw on the ball.
LS: (A)Rick Lovato hasn’t messed up a long snap, and has 4 tackles this quarter, vs just 1 in the last quarter. HE’S PLAYING LIKE A MAN POSSESSED!
P: (B)Cam Johnston is averaging 48.8 yards per boot, 10 of which have been returned for 78 yards. All of those numbers are down from last quarter, but all of those are still kick-ass numbers! It just puts in perspective how much ass Cam was stomping when the year began. Or it should. It should.
K: (D)Jake Elliottwas 5 for 5 on extra points, but 1 of 4 on FG, during this quarter. Right now the team is playing better in spite of him. In spite of.
SINCE LAST QUARTER:
We hit the realistic mark of 2 – 2. We separated ourselves from the bottom of the division. Unfortunately, continuous injury issues kept the Offensive Line and the Secondary from gelling.
MISSION FOR THIS QUARTER:
Try to win four games. The giants, Browns, Seahawks and Packers are on the menu this quarter, and most people don’t give us a chance against three of those teams. It’s too early to break out the dog masks, and to start using phrases like “Must Win” and “Playoff Mentality”. It is time for this team to challenge itself and each other, to take their individual games to the next level.
The reality is, we haven’t been very good this year, but there is no law that states that we cannot or will not improve. We have a few players coming back from injury after the Bye. We also have the motivation that this, is the last run as Eagles for some of these players. Next season, some of these guys will be back-ups on new teams, with little impact in the outcome of games. This is the last chance some of them will ever have, to make their expectations, their hopes, into reality.
So damn the pundits. Bow down to no one, and try to win ALL FOUR of these games.
I hear you asking, “What about all the stuff that stats don’t reveal?” Well, that’s the reason for the Four Thingsarticles. It’s to point out what we need to address BEFORE the game. Then AFTER the game, there’s a no-bullshit assessment of whether or not the Eagles did any of what they needed to do, to ensure the win.
So how much of what I mentioned in Four Things: Cowboys did the Eagles get around to doing? Well let’s see:
1) Bait the QB: We had a few chances at interceptions (S Rod McLeod, DB Jalen Mills and LB Alex Singleton, etc.), but Eagles players just couldn’t seal the deal. We sacked their QB 4 times, but we harassed him and forced him consistently into missing needed passes and settling for ineffectual ones. (DONE)
2) Run the ball: The mark was 25+ handoffs. We managed just 22. On those handoffs we produced 102 yards for an average of 4.6 per tote. The only reason we didn’t run the ball more, was because yet again, the coaching staff elected to get cute with the play-calling. On a night when the wind was taking no prisoners. This was the height of stupidity and stupid arrogance. (NOT DONE)
3) Shark Tank!: Early on, the ball wasn’t thrown much into the middle of the field. So the Eagles never got the chance to set this up. They didn’t get this done, but this is more on me, for setting up a marker that was dependent on what our opponent dictated. The mark was missed, but the error is mine. I will do better in the future. (NOT DONE)
4) Put on a clinic:We didn’t follow the blueprint for beating this team. In fact, we looked most of the time, like a headhunting boxer, searching for a knockout blow, instead of doing the work to set one up. The result was sloppy and uneven. (NOT DONE)
So this weeks Four Things score is 1 out of 4. Here at the team’s Bye week, we stand at 11 of 32. (That one miss being my fault.) Next week we get a Bye to rest up, and for the coaching staff to assess how to get some discipline out of this group.
The week after that, we look to extend our win streak and complete a sweep of the giants.
On The Whole: We looked bad. Let’s get that out of the way, right off. Now that that has been acknowledged, we apparently did enough to win the damned game. So obviously everything we did, wasn’t wrong.
We made the Cowboys RB-based run game look downright pedestrian, with 103 yards on 26 carries. They had a couple of WR reverses and some QB scramble yards, but nothing that they could hang their hats on.
The mission was to put the offense squarely on the shoulders of their trash talking QB, and he was clearly not up to the task. His stat line (21/40 – 52.5% – 180 – 0 – 0) doesn’t look so good when you consider that our CB’s play on deep cushions, which gives away free short completions, by design.
Lost in all of this is that this was A) The first game this year where we didn’t give up 20 points,B) A game in which we held an opponent to a single digit score, C)A game in which we allowed zero touchdowns, and D) A game in which Wentz managed to move the ball despite only having one receiver with more than 16 yards on the night.
Also, (shades of the Redskins game), Carson again threw two picks while trying to hook up with rookie WR’s Jalen Reagor and John Hightower. With WR DeSean Jackson on IR, Hightower is our home-run hitter. That said, Wentz and Hightower need to spend this Bye week playing catch somewhere, so they can finally get on the same page.
LINEBACKER is one of two positions where the Eagles have an extremely spotty Draft history. If you go back to 1975 (the year I was born), there have have only been nine LB’s drafted by, and panning out, as a four year starter for the Eagles: Reggie Wilkes1978, Jerry Robinson 1979, Anthony Griggs 1982, Seth Joyner1986, Byron Evans 1987, William Thomas 1991, Jeremiah Trotter1998, Mychal Kendricks 2012, Jordan Hicks 2015.
Let me say that again. In 45 years, and after spending 52 draft picks on the LB position, the Eagles have had just NINE of them pan out. Since Jeff Luriebought the team in 1994, the numbers are just 3 out of 27. Keep in mind that 1994 was 26 years ago. So we’ve drafted just three successful LB’s, in the last quarter century.
Which brings us to our current situation.
Many media types are wondering if the Eagles did enough in the 2020 Draft to shore up our holes at the MLB and OLB position. Let me disabuse you of the notion that this is a question. No. The Eagles have not done enough to patch the holes at LB.
DC Jim Schwartz has given OLB Nate Gerry a few starts at MLB, and every time yields disastrous results. Gerry playing MIKE gives us sideline to sideline hustle, and better than average fluidity in coverage because he played Safety in college. Due to his size, in the NFL he was either going to be a fast LB, or a slow S. The Eagles opted for fast LB, and as long as Gerry stays on the outside, he’s an absolute asset and a playmaker. But he lacks the sand in his pants to play inside, or to start vs a run heavy offense, that has a good blocking TE.
Right now OLB Genard Avery is sitting in limbo. As an edge defender, his speed and power adds juice to our pass rush. He also has a history of playing ILB, and does a good job of not staying blocked when facing offensive linemen. Since opposing blocking schemes already are going to struggle with the Eagles DT’s, if Avery could make the move to MLB, our interior could become a virtual No Man’s Land. That however, is speculation on my part. To date there is no word of Avery making a move inside.
OLB Jatavis Brownwas added via Free Agency. In 2018, injuries forced the Chargers to start him in 10 of the 15 games he played. He made such an impact that he started just 1 of 13 in 2019. At 220 pounds, he’s a big S, but an undersized LB. In the limited video I can find of him, he needs help to finish many tackles. In coverage he’s no ballhawk, with zero interceptions in 4 years. He’s got speed, but what’s the point of speed, if you don’t make impact plays? I hope he makes me eat my words.
The Eagles are high on Second year MLB T.J. Edwards, despite him having what keeps being referred to as “athletic limitations”. While he may not be a great individual athlete, he might be a great team concept football player. It’s worth noting that the Eagles are 4 – 0 when he starts, despite playing a combined 11 snaps in those games. (Perhaps he’s a human rabbit’s foot?) Also in those four games, our Defense which gave up a season average of 22.1 points per game, gave up 13, 14, 17 and 9 points respectively. He made no splash plays in the preseason, regular season or postseason, despite playing in all 21 of those games.
MLB Duke Riley is a 218 pound Special Teamer who saw just 28 defensive snaps in 2019. (This is compared to 111 for the rookie Edwards).
Second year LB Alex Singleton may be among the first wave of cuts. He’s a Special Teamer who didn’t see any defensive snaps during the season. That isn’t exactly a vote of confidence from the team, about his ability to play his position.
Rookie OLB Davion Taylor is a tweener in the Nate Gerry mold. Doesn’t seem to offer much vs the run. he’ll have to add weight to his 225 frame to handle the NFC East.
Rookie MLB Shaun Bradley is nice “local boy makes good” story, but his tape says Practice Squad at best.
Rookie free agent signee, MLB Dante Olson looks like a genuine Tackle to Tackle presence, but that may not be the best scheme-fit. I like him. I really do. However, unless the Eagles are about to alter what we do at MLB, I don’t know how he fits.
THIS isn’t a “bounce back” game. It’s not a “must win” game. This is a “must play” game. Our Eagles need to show up. All the way up. We’ve seen what happens when they don’t.
Our team got shit-canned two weeks in a row. It’s not glamorous, but it’s been known to happen in sports. There is nothing wrong, or undignified in us falling down. The mark of character, is in what happens when we get back up.
We are 3 – 4, one game behind in the division, and attempting to right the ship. The Eagles have made a few roster moves to alter the chemistry of what we have on the field. It’s less of an overhaul, and more of a tinkering.
The Bills come in boasting a 5 – 1 record that’s little more than a propped up scheme, made to deceive, odds takers and gamble fiends, who don’t do homework. But that’s not the church you worship at. So, let’s get to choppin’ this fable.
6 – 27. That, is the combined record of the five teams that Buffalo has beaten. Not one of the teams they’ve beaten is .500. Two of them have no wins at all (Miami 0 – 6, Cincy 0 – 7). Oh, and most of them have been close. Buffalo’s billed as a defensive powerhouse, but really, their opponents would have had trouble scoring in a whorehouse.
So let’s talk about the Four Things we need to focus on this week versus the Bills:
1) Play sound Defense:The Bills don’t have any players that make defensive coaches lose sleep. The receivers are quick, but not fast. The RB is strong, but he’s 80. The line is big, but allows sacks. The QB is mobile, but he shares the football. We just need to play tighter coverage, and wrap up when we tackle. That’s it. Even with our “meh” LB’s, we have enough defensive talent to defuse their offense.
2) Force a #2 WR:Part of what’s killing us isn’t just the lack of a deep threat, but being able to stretch the field horizontally, to create wider lanes for the run game and space for the TE’s inside. In addition to WR Alshon Jeffery, QB Carson Wentz is going to have to “manufacture” a #2 WR. Pick a WR and get him a few passes near the sideline.
3) Move Gerry outside:
MLB (LOL!) Nate Gerry has two straight starts at MLB, and in both games we gave up at least 37 points, and got shelled vs the run. Hey remember who was in the middle for Redskin RB Adrian Peterson’s 90yard TD run against us? Wow! Your memory is excellent! Nate can’t play MLB. As in, period. As in, at all. He just isn’t man enough. Great WS/NLB, but he’s a doormat inside. Put T.J. Edwards there, and move Gerry outside where his ‘tweenerness, is less of a liability.
4) Let’s be assholes:Buffalo has a huge defensive interior. Big, strong, powerful, bulky guys. Guys who can anchor against a running attack, and bull-rush their way to pressure. Let’s get those porky fuckers running laterally. RB Screens, backside TE Screens, play-action… Let’s tire these fat bastards out early, get them sucking wind, and then beat them with a power run-game in the second half. Let the world watch us win by picking on some fat guys. You know, essentially body-shaming full-grown men, in front of a stadium full of children. And their kids.
If we do all these things, we’re just about guaranteed to win. Now that we’ve covered what should happen, let’s get into what likely will happen:
More loose coverage. Bills QB Josh Allen throws for a season-high 280 yards. WR Nelson Agholor gets to watch WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside eat into some of his snaps, and see a few targets from Wentz. RB Jordan Howardwill see few than 15 carries, but finally break one for 20 yards. The 6’5 237 pound QB who turns the ball over the most, will lose.
We had a stumble, but we are not done. Not by a damned sight.